Regulars and Shorts

Animals Animals: Slow Food for Pets?

By Sunny Branson

Exploring dietary alternatives for cats and dogs.
by Sunny Branson
animalsLast month the FDA and Menu Foods, Inc. confirmed that a contaminant in pet food was responsible for many illnesses and deaths of companion animals. Although the percentage affected was relatively small, the seemingly ever-changing news and media hype about the recall has created confusion and panic. This acute problem has been a reminder of the more chronic problem of the massive multinational corporations supplying a large percentage of product to the masses.

People wonder if they can trust their pet's food and are looking for diet alternatives.

Homemade dog and cat food

The benefits of homemade pet foods include being able to provide a more natural diet and to meet the individual needs of your animal. Recipes can be tailored for kittens and puppies, overweight animals and pets with specific health needs.

Disadvantages include the research and preparation time involved, not to mention the expense. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), preparing a meal for a pet at home is quite complicated because animals have unique nutritional needs.

Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, a member of the AVMA, agrees that preparing meals for your pet can be tricky. For pet owners committed to making their own pet food, he recommends "Home-prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative," by Donald Strombeck, DVM, PhD. Buffington also recommends as one of the best Web sites on home-cooked pet diets.

Another popular book is "Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats." Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, is a veterinary specialist in chemical-free nutrition, treatment and natural healing for pets. The book offers natural and holistic advice on pet topics as well as a quick-reference section on animal illnesses.

Karen Bayard, owner of Heart 2 Heart Pet Services, offers workshops in making your own petfood. She agrees that holistic vets can help you navigate your way through a pet's diet change, particularly from commercial to homemade. A well-balanced, nutritional pet meal might include a variety of supplements as well, such as kelp, alfalfa powder, granulated lecithin, ground flax seeds, acidophilus, cod liver oil, bonemeal powder and fresh parsley. You can find these supplements at Dave's Health & Nutrition (1108 E. 3300 South), Wild Oats (various locations) or through Millcreek Herbs (801-466-1632). To learn more about upcoming pet food-preparation classes, visit her Web site:

The raw food diet

Based on the belief that raw foods are closer to what our pets' wild ancestors would have eaten, the raw food diet is considered helpful in tackling a variety of degenerative diseases and chronic tooth and gum problems that plague our domesticated companions.

Tom Lonsdale, Australian veterinary surgeon and author of "Raw Meaty Bones," says that more than 75% of domestic pets over the age of three years suffer from periodontal disease which can lead to other debilitating, even life-threatening, diseases affecting the heart, kidneys and immune system.

Most raw-food diets include an extensive list of ingredients-beef muscle meat, cereal grain, milk, cottage cheese, beef liver, egg, bone meal, apple cider vinegar, greens and herbs, molasses, wheat bran, wheat germ, kelp, safflower oil, fruit, honey, egg shells and cod liver oil-and emphasize that the combination of ingredients is essential for a pet's balanced nutrition.

Disadvantages of a raw diet are the time, commitment and expense involved. Handling raw meat may turn off some pet owners. The diet is complicated, as evident from the ingredient list. Users are instructed to follow it precisely to meet the pet's nutritional requirements.

A veterinarian's perspective

Nan Larsen, DVM, of Dancing Cats Feline Health Center reminds us that you should change a pet's diet gradually. "Instead of drastically changing a diet, it's more important to avoid the recalled products and start reading labels," says Larsen. "For those worried about wheat gluten [determined to be the source of problems in the contaminated feed], there are products on the market that don't use this ingredient, like Wellness brand dog and cat food."

For those committed to changing their pet's diet over time, Larsen says a well-researched raw food feline diet can benefit cats who can tolerate it.

Larsen recommends the two books mentioned before. For Internet research, she points people to the American Holistic Veterinarian Medical Association Web site (, which has articles about raw-food diets for cats. Another trustworthy site is the American Association of Feline Practitioners at

Not all recipes found on the Internet, even from well-meaning sources, are necessarily complete and balanced. Get advice from your veterinarian on the best diet for your pets. (For a list of Utah holistic vets, visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association's website:

All-natural pet foods

Benefits of a natural food diet are that it is easily digestible, doesn't contain chemical preservatives or by-products, produces less aromatic waste, can be tailored for special needs-such as for pets with food sensitivities or allergies-and is palatable to the pickiest of dogs and cats. The ingredients are "human grade," meaning they are the same quality of ingredients people might feed to their children. For many people, this is the only choice because they feel that their pets are their children.

Alexis Butler, owner of The Dog's Meow (2045 E. 3300 South in Salt Lake City), has seen a significant increase in business since the recall and says her customers like natural foods because they can actually understand the ingredients.

"Many people are afraid to turn to natural-food diets for their pets because they assume it's cost-prohibitive," says Butler. "However, they're usually surprised to learn that it's not much more expensive than the highly processed pet foods. And whatever they pay upfront is made up in what they save in vet bills down the road."

The Dog's Meow also carries raw frozen food as a more convenient alternative to a home-prepared raw food diet.

Some natural pet food brands to consider include Innova, California Natural, Nature's Variety and Canidae. They use vitamin E as a natural preservative, giving them a shelf life of a year after the manufacturing date.

Sunny Branson is co-owner of Single Malt Media, volunteers for Wasatch Animal Rescue and sponsors two pot-bellied pigs at Ching Farm Sanctuary.

This article was originally published on April 30, 2007.